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What is an AI PC? The latest computing trend explained

If you’ve paid attention to computer chip or laptop launches over the last six months or so, you’ll have seen the phrase “AI PC” everywhere. Let us explain the basics behind the buzzword.

The computing world comes with a plethora of buzzwords and the flavour of the month is “AI PC”. Whether you’re an Intel, AMD, Microsoft and, even, Apple, it is AI this and AI that right now.

Now, we get it, it is clear AI is going to play a big part in the future of computing, but are current PC’s worth the “AI PC” label right now? Let’s analyse the basics of the new term.

What is an AI PC?

An “AI PC” is a computer that features a chip which, in turn, features an neural processing unit (NPU) as part of its design. The NPU is a microprocessor that runs articial intelligence-specific workloads. These workloads may include running predictive models, machine learning or generative AI.

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AI PCs have come into the spotlight in recent times in line with new chips launches from Intel, AMD and Qualcomm, with all touting their new NPU and its AI capabilities. In particular, we’ve seen more and more Windows laptops with Intel’s new Core Ultra or AMD’s Ryzen 8000 chips being dubbed “AI PC”, with the hardware manufacturers, like Lenovo, Honor and more, all using the term too. We’ve reviewed the new Asus Zenbook 14 OLED, Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2024) and more devices that all fall into this bracket of AI PC.

The immediate benefits of PCs featuring a dedicated NPU have not been immediately obvious, with simple features like Windows Studio effects for video conferencing being the main thing touted by manufacturers. These are features that were largely available at software level in tools like Zoom already, but it provides a native solution.

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2024)
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 2024 (AMD Ryzen 8000 – AI PC) – Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

However, the benefits are likely to become more substantial, but not necessarily more obvious, as software and hardware makers create tools to use the NPU in more everyday tasks. For example, Intel says that in its testing, “AI PCs with an Intel Core Ultra processor were able to edit videos nearly two-and-a-half times faster (2.3X, to be exact). We also saw complex image editing tasks run 52% faster. An AI PC is the PC that can save you gobs of time in all the creative things you do every single day at home and at work.” So, this isn’t some new feature, but shows AI is set to improve performance of typical tasks.

AI PCs are also set to be defined by how they align with Microsoft’s Windows operating system as well. One of the most consumer-facing AI products right now is Microsoft Copilot, which is slowly rolling out to Windows 11 devices and we’re set to see a dedicated Copilot key on some laptops in the future too.

But, for now, Copilot currently runs in the cloud, so does not benefit from a computer’s onboard NPU. However, that looks set to change in the future, with Microsoft recently saying, “Together, we’re putting new system architectures in place to power new Windows AI experiences bringing together the GPU, CPU, NPU and the cloud.” Rumours also suggest the next version of Copilot will provide improved on-device contextual AI assistance (via Windows Central).

Aside from Windows devices, it could be argued that Apple has been making “AI PCs” since it introduced the M1 MacBook Air back in 2020, with it featuring a dedicated NPU right off the bat.

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